By Seble Teweldebirhan |
Addis Ababa, November 30, 2011 – For some, the annual Great Ethiopian Run is just a fun. For others it is a time to demonstrate their yearlong training for the Great Run. There are also those who take it as a day out with friends and family wearing the same t-shirt and laughing almost half day walk. For the limited number of professional athletes, the stage is a real competition, probably one of the few opportunities for young new athletes to show what they are capable of. The prize, which for the first place winner is 40,000 birr this year, is not so bad either for the young athletes.
However, for considerable number of people who take part in the annual Great Ethiopian Run, the event has more important than it stands for. The Great Run is the only time of the year for the residents of Addis and for those who travel from regions for it to express their frustration and anger, to complain, to support, to request and raise their voice for several causes. It’s a one day in a year that people are allowed to say whatever they feel out loud, criticize the government, condemn the policies and never mind the almost equal number of federal police who lose their intimidating effect for that half day. The country officially banned any demonstration for the last seven years. Therefore many agree that one of the remarkable things the legendary athlete Haile Gebreselassie, who is the founder of the Great Ethiopian Run, did for his people is creating this opportunity for people raise their voice for the countless complaints they have on the government and other organs.
This year, on Sunday November 27, as 36,000 people with 500 professional athletes and 250 diplomats take the road for the 11th ten Km Great Ethiopian Run 2011 sponsored by Ethiopian Commercial Bank, the usual trend of fun, and cause was there as bold as the red t-shirt itself. Before the huge crowed even started the race, the professional athletes have finished their competition. Musnet Geremew of Amhara Police and Abebech Afewerke of Defense won the men’s and women’s 10-kilo meters race respectively. The British acting Ambassador Chirs Allen was the winner of Ethiopian Airlines Ambassador Race with Norway and USA ambassadors respectively.
For the rest, the race was more of a crowd voice, which they tried to make a point about the out of control inflation, expense of life, violence against women, maternal death, child Labour abuse, and environmental concerns including climate change. Many tried to stress on the extreme corruption and power abuse in the country. Others had some serious issues with the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation and Ethio Telecom. Unhappy with the power cut, slow internet connections and high phone bills, they shouted for some changes in those areas. Others expressed their shame on Ethiopian Football Federation, announcing their support for Arsenal and Manchester saying they are better off with European football and requesting change in the federation. There were also people who tended to condemn the Athletics Federation, which they think is killing the countries one, and only hope in sports, long distance running, by not giving fresh talents a chance.
“I have to wait a year to say what is on my mind,” said Eyob, a 32 years old bank teller. “It is a great exercise and I give it a lot of credit for that. However I run every year because I have a lot of complaints and this is my only chance to say them out loud,” he says. He and many of his friends, who are bankers, were trying to demonstrate on the National Bank of Ethiopia, which happened to be the prime sponsor of the race, to take a look at itself. They believe there are ways the country can decrease the inflation rate but the Bank is not open about it and accept options from outsiders.
At the same time, including the National Theater Band, many bands and musicians colored the side roads of the great run, playing several traditional tones and entertaining the runners, or perhaps the walkers. Teenagers danced and shouted as much as they could, seizing the moment. Since carnivals and public events of such kinds are barely part of the tradition in our society, for the youth, it was a chance to do and be some of the things they are not allowed under normal circumstances. “It is so fun’’ said a 17 years old high school student Helen. “I am having a blast. My friends and I were dancing and shouting from the very first minute the race began. I love the people, the bands and the music. It is a beautiful day to be out and have fun with so many people. There aren’t many days like this around here,” she said.
A costume competition also took place, many trying to win with weird, funny and some how scary costumes.
At the finishing line, this year not everyone was promised the same medal as it was in the past. Those who did their homework, practiced at least once before the Great Run, and could become one of the first 12,000 people to finish the race were the champions who got the purple ribbon medals. The second place with a green ribbon medals was given for the people who happen to finish and be one of the 12,000-24,000. The rest were left with yellow and red ribbon medals. However, at the end of the competition, unlike the previous years, only half of the participants got the medals that were promised for everyone who finished the race. It happened to be much disorganized where some took more than one medals and many did not get any. When asking for medals from the organizers, the federal police, who finally got their power back after the race was finished and the media left the area, pushed the participants away threatening to use force and of course their ‘you better go’ scary face.
Many were disappointed as a result. “We can’t even ask things that are rightly ours,” Said the 53 years old Seyoum who engaged himself in a hot argument with a federal police. “We paid for the medals and the least they can do is to explain their problem and apologize. Instead they call a federal police on us,” he said with emotions. Some police officers said their job is not to make sure whether people got their medals or not. “We are here because we are told there is a problem. Our job is security. Your medals are not our problem,” one of them shouted.
Overall, this year, the Great Ethiopian Run gave so much fun for many and for considerable number of participants it was an opportunity to get off some of the pains they suffered last years from their chest by loudly saying them.